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Nationals look for boost from bottom hitters vs. Pirates

Apr 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto (22) hits a double against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Pittsburgh won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals don’t have many worries in the top half of their batting order. It’s the rest of the lineup that has manager Davey Martinez concerned.

The Nationals have lost two of the first three games to the host Pittsburgh Pirates, and they could use a spark from the bottom of their lineup on Sunday, when they aim for a split of the four-game set.

Juan Soto blasted a solo homer and reached base four times in a 6-4 loss on Saturday. The homer was Soto’s third of the season and 101st of his career.

The Nationals boast a formidable heart of the lineup with Soto, Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell. However, the team has been held to under five runs in eight of its first 10 games.

Several players at the bottom of the order have struggled in the season’s first two weeks, including center fielder Victor Robles (0-for-18 with seven strikeouts).

“Our lineup’s more built to take our walks and try to hit doubles and homers,” Martinez said. “With that being said, the bottom of our lineup needs to play the game a little bit. And we need to start creating some things. The most important thing for me right now is to get these guys to swing the bat and get on base first.”

The Nationals next face Pirates left-hander Jose Quintana (0-1, 1.69 ERA), who made a strong first impression with his new team last Tuesday.

The veteran Quintana allowed one run over 5 1/3 innings in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs. He walked two and struck out three.

“All day long, I thought he threw the ball well,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “If he goes out in the rest of his starts and throws the ball like that, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

Quintana, 33, joined the Pirates as a free agent in November. He went 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in 29 combined starts with the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants last season.

Cruz is 7-for-23 (.304) with a home run against Quintana, who is making his second career start against the Nationals.

Washington counters with Patrick Corbin (0-2, 10.80 ERA), who has struggled in his first two outings, allowing eight runs and 14 hits over 6 2/3 innings.

The left-hander lasted just 2 2/3 innings in a 16-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves last Tuesday. He gave up six runs on nine hits with three walks.

“I thought command was OK – just looking back on some things. Maybe pitch selection could be something,” said Corbin. “But I feel pretty good. I don’t know; I’ll have to maybe look at this again. I’m not quite sure.”

Corbin is looking to bounce back from a dismal 2021 season, when he posted a 5.82 ERA and allowed the most homers in the National League.

Corbin, 32, has enjoyed success against Pittsburgh in recent years. He owns a 0.96 ERA in his last five starts against the Pirates dating to 2018.

Pittsburgh catcher Roberto Perez sat out Saturday’s contest with a left quad contusion but is expected to return for the series finale. Shortstop Kevin Newman (left groin tightness) is listed as day-to-day.

–Field Level Media